Photo by Craig
Paul Poberezny at the PT-23 presentation
in the EAA Warbird area.
A younger Paul
Poberezny posing on the wing and with his Army flying buddies.
July 29, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - It’s
not unusual for pilots to imagine what happened to an airplane they once
EAA Founder Paul Poberezny got the answer
regarding one of the myriad airframes he’s piloted. On Tuesday at EAA
AirVenture he was reunited with a Fairchild PT-23 primary trainer—one of
the same PT-23s he used to instruct students at Thompson Robbins Army
Airfield in Helena, Arkansas during World War II.
A large crowd of AirVenture visitors lined
bleachers to hear Poberezny speak as two large photos on display depicted
Paul when he was a flight instructor. “I didn’t realize I looked that
young. Just about all of my students were younger than I was,” the
87-year-old Poberezny told the crowd. “I learned from them as well as
“I never washed out a student,” he said
with obvious satisfaction.
Paul told the crowd some of the instructors
preferred teaching students in groups of three instead of the normally
assigned five students. So they would find ways to wash out a couple of
cadets, while Paul tried instead to nurture all of his fledglings through
65 hours of primary training.
But that nurturing sometimes required a bit of
tough love. Paul said he occasionally caught a glimpse in the rearview
mirror of a student’s face, staring straight ahead on final approach
instead of looking around and judging the landing. At that moment,
Poberezny, in the front cockpit, would grab the PT-23’s fire
extinguisher and shake it overhead to get the student’s attention.
But lest anyone think flight instructor
Poberezny was above any hijinks, he recalled being called on the carpet
for “rolling the wheels on the levee of the Mississippi and got caught.”
After an admonition, he was back to work.
Poberezny looked at the black rubber hose\gosport
speaking tube and mouthpiece with the PT-23 during his presentation. It
conveyed the human voice through the airway of the hose instead of via
radio. Paul referred to it by a distant colloquialism from an earlier era:
“the bitchin’ tool,” because instructors used it to get the
attention of wayward students.
The low-wing, open-cockpit PT-23 placed
student and instructor under the blazing Arkansas sun. Since instructors
flew more than any one of their students, they gained a deeper suntan
except where their flying goggles masked their faces, Poberezny recalled.
In town, locals could always spot a flight instructor by the pale circles
around his eyes. “They called us ‘owl eyes’,” Paul told the crowd.
That’s not all they called Paul. In response to a question from the
audience, he acknowledged he gained the nickname “Poopdeck” when “people
couldn’t say Poberezny,” he explained. “I got that back in grade
school. I don’t hear it as much any more because a lot of those people
are passing on.”
Two silvered fabric-covered PT-23s formed a
rakish echelon backdrop to Poberezny as he spoke. Their stout
honey-colored wooden Sensenich propellers were rotated to attention with
the two blades pointing to the 10 and 4 clock positions. Cloth flying
helmets and rubber gosport speaking tubes draped over the cockpit coaming.
It was 1943 again.
The Fairchild PT-23 primary trainer answered a
1942 wartime supply problem by flying behind an available Continental
R-670 radial engine when production of similar PT-19s was threatened by a
lack of inline Ranger engines. In addition to Fairchild production, PT-23s
were built by the Aeronca, Howard, and St. Louis companies in the United
States as well as Fleet in Canada.
The uncowled 220-horsepower round engine gives
the PT-23A a top speed of 128 mph. At 25 feet, 11 inches in length, the
PT-23 is two feet shorter than its narrow-nosed PT-19 siblings. The rest
of the airframe is consistent with the PT-19: wingspan is 36 feet, with a
wing area of 200 square feet. The beefier radial engine of the PT-23 gives
the airplane an empty weight of 2,045 pounds compared with the PT-19’s
empty weight of only 1,845 pounds.
Fixed gear, simple construction, and
stabilizing wing dihedral made the PT-23 and PT-19 viable as primary
trainers for fledgling aviators.
Poberezny’s reunion with his old PT-23 was
also the occasion for presentation of a certificate by Tom Thomas honoring
Poberezny for his lifelong support of the Reserve and National Guard
programs. Called the Seven Seals award, it was conferred by the Employer
Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) organization.
As the formal program concluded, audience
members quietly clustered around Paul Poberezny as he autographed caps and